The unguarded moment

For now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know, even as also I am known.

1 Corinthians 13

We’ve all seen it – you’re stuck on the motorway in a traffic jam and you notice the guy in the car next to you is meticulously picking his nose. And eating it.

These are the moments where we stop being conscious of the world around us and act as though we are entirely alone, even when we’re surrounded by people, unguarded and totally self-absorbed.

We all assume a kind of false identity when we’re with others. Children are so delightful partly because they haven’t learned how to do it yet – we teach them the things you can and can’t say, and who you can and can’t say them in front of. They learn to be brave and not cry, to laugh when everyone else laughs, to say and do the right things at the right time as they grow older.

In some ways we’re a bit scared of the unguarded moment. When we’re completely ourselves without guile or artifice, will we still be loved, or even liked? So we put on a likeable front, turn on the charm and show our best side to the world.

In the Guardian yesterday, David Levene, who photographed Tony Blair for the paper, said of this picture: “I’d just changed my lighting setup, and I’d told him that I was ‘just doing a few tests, just seeing how the lights work”. In fact Levene was busily snapping away. “At that point he was just listening to me, he wasn’t posing. And these are the moments you really strive for.”

Because in spite of all the bluff, we’re also desperate to be seen and known in our unguarded moments, because if we’re loved then, then we know we must be absolutely, unconditionally loved.

I guess that’s why there’s often a scene in romantic films where the guy slips away from a sleeping woman, but not before he’s taken a lingering look at her. Or why Prince Charming wanted to kiss Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tale – unguarded, wholly herself, he loved her.

If we knew the unconscious actions, mannerisms, facial expressions that somehow define the uniqueness of us, and that sum up the how (not the why) of someone’s love for us, then we’d become self-conscious and stop doing them. Or do them with intent.

But to be seen with affection, and truly known, in our unguarded moments – twirling your hair while you’re reading, concentrating when you put on your mascara, frowning slightly when you’re concentrating, skipping slightly to keep up when you’re walking – that’s where love is an indefinable, unquantifiable, and truly beautiful thing.

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